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The Biggest Non-Criminal Cases We Previewed During SCOTUS Week

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 14, 2013 4:01 PM

Last week was a busy week at FindLaw. In honor of the Supreme Court's new term, it was Supreme Court week, where we previewed the most significant cases docketed for the upcoming term.

Last term, the docket had same-sex marriage, affirmative action and voting rights. This term is shaping up to be equally important, with religion, speech, affirmative action, campaign finance restrictions, intellectual property disputes, and major labor law cases on the docket, and that doesn't even touch the bevy of criminal cases. Here the biggest non-criminal cases we previewed in our circuit court blogs:

Freedom of Speech and Religion

McCullen v. Coakley: In two prior cases, SCOTUS has upheld content-neutral protest buffer zones at abortion clinics. This is the same issue, a 35-foot buffer zone for protests at abortion clinics, so why was cert. granted?

Town of Greece v. Galloway: Opening a legislative session with an invocation is a long-standing tradition, and a regular issue in the circuit courts. What are the limits though? And is this the end of the "endorsement test" for church and state issues?

U.S. v. Apel: The military can surely ban people from a base, especially when the protestor caused a disturbance (and sprayed his own blood on a sign). But can they kick protestors off of a state-owned easement, also known as the highway that crosses through the base?

Labor Law

Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall: You can't bribe union officials with "things of value," but does providing employees' contact information and making no opposition to unionization in exchange for goodies and a waiver of all future labor disturbances count?

Harris v. Quinn: Can workers, consistent with free speech rights, be forced to pay non-political portions of union dues? Long ago, the court answered that question in the affirmative, but after hinting at a willingness to revisit the issue last term, this could be the vehicle for further weakening organized labor.

Intellectual Property

Medtronic Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp.: Who bears the burden of proof in infringement cases? Traditionally, it has been the patentee, but when a party seeks a declaratory judgment of noninfringement, does that shift the burden?

Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness and Highmark v. Allcare Health Management Systems: Fee-shifting is a tool many have called for in the war against patent trolls, which are clogging up our courts. These two cases could loosen the standard for shifting fees, and increase deference to lower courts' awarding of fees.

Campaign Finance

McCutcheon v. FEC: Do aggregate limits on campaign contributions violate free speech principles? Buckley v. Valeo said no, but after oral arguments, it seems like reversal, at least in part, may be in the works.

Affirmative Action

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action: Up for argument this week, this case asks whether a state can ban racial preferences in higher education. Some commentators think they've identified a fatal flaw in the lower court's opinion, which could give SCOTUS an easy way to allow the bans, currently in place in Michigan and California.

Hopefully, these previews will help you in your quest for FantasySCOTUS dominance. We expect orders from last week's conference, perhaps granting certiorari in some major cases, tomorrow, and possibly opinions as well. We'll be back later this week with a roundup of the most significant criminal cases set for the court's term.

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